A judge has barred Maj. Nidal Hasan, the Army psychiatrist charged in a deadly shooting rampage at Fort Hood, from military court because he still has a beard.
Judge Col. Gregory Gross told Hasan on Tuesday that he could not attend any more hearings until he shaved, citing the Army’s strict regulations regarding grooming standards. At a hearing earlier this month Gross had initially warned Hasan – who is still a member of the military – that his refusal to shave was in violation of Army policy.
Hasan, 41, faces the death penalty if convicted of 13 counts of premeditated murder and 32 counts of attempted premeditated murder for the November 2009 attack that killed 13 people in Texas and wounded more than 30 others. It is the worst mass shooting on a U.S. military base.
Lead defense attorney Lt. Col. Kris Poppe said Hasan grew the beard as a “deeply sincere” expression of his Islamic faith and because he has a premonition he will die soon.
For a trial that has already suffered significant delays compared to typical tribunals, military law experts say Hasan’s actions are clearly a means of delaying the Fort Hood court proceedings and maximizing his own media exposure.
“Obviously this stunt is not genuine,” Jeffrey Addicott, a former legal adviser to the Army Special Forces, told msnbc.com. “And if it is genuine, his religion is what motivated him to murder people, so it’s not likely that would go over well for him in the long run anyway.”
Hasan, an American-born Muslim, has been clean-shaven in all other court appearances since the 2009 attack. His current shift in behavior, says Addicott, who’s also the director at the Center for Terrorism Law at St. Mary’s University, signals that he wants the media attention in hopes to make the case that the military is persecuting him for his faith.
“He’s using this as a platform to proselytize other would-be extremists,” Addicott said. “He wants publicity to advance radical Islam and attract other jihadists to the cause, and to portray that he’s being persecuted by the military because they are making him to shave his beard when that’s his Islamic belief.”
Hasan, who is paralyzed from the waist down after being shot by police the day of the rampage, was removed from the court Tuesday and ordered to watch the rest of the day’s proceedings on a closed-circuit television from a nearby room, which Addicott called particularly troubling for Hasan’s tactic. For his part, Addicott said he predicts Hasan will shave his beard.
“This is not his first stunt, and it will not be his last,” Addicott said. “Hasan thrives on media attention, so now the judge is saying, ‘I’m going to isolate you from the media,’ which won’t go over well with Hasan’s strategy.”
But despite Hasan’s motivations, Greg Rinckey, a former attorney with the U.S. Army’s Judge Advocate General Corps, says he’s not surprised about delays in this case because everyone is proceeding cautiously.
“This case is being watched closely,” Rinckey told msnbc.com. “Everything the judge does is going to be subject to appeal. He doesn’t want people to say he was too harsh or predisposed, and he absolutely doesn’t want the case to get overturned on a technicality.”
Fort Hood officials wouldn’t say whether Hasan would be charged for showing up unshaven, though one possible charge is failure to obey a lawful order or regulation, which carries a maximum two-year jail sentence.
The trial is expected to last at least two months and is currently scheduled to begin August 20. Hasan remains jailed.